Divers working together with local communities to save the Bay of Bengal

Gazi Anowar
In a bid to create awareness among the islanders and tourists about dangers of solid waste pollution in seas, MFF and Save Our Sea (SoS) on April 7 conducted an annual underwater clean-up dive at Saint Martin's Island, Bangladesh.

Saint Martin’s Island, located at the southern tip of Bangladesh bordering Myanmar, is the meeting point of South and South East Asia. It is the only island in Bangladesh known to host coral reefs. The 2 kilometer island is a popular tourist destination and home to four thousand residents.

Tourism and fishery exert pressure on the island’s environment and biodiversity is believed to be severely degrading each year.

To make a difference in this scenario, scuba divers and marine conservationist under the umbrella of the national diving community ‘Dive Bangladesh’ started the underwater clean up week, back in 2001. The campaign initiated with the guidance of International Ocean Conservation group ‘Project AWARE’ and technical sponsorship of ‘Oceanic Scuba Diving Center’ based on the Island.

This year, 12 divers, 20 student volunteers and 40 local community members participated in the campaign. Scuba divers rounded up debris from the depth of the sea in specially made bags. Teams of marine conservationist volunteers organized awareness campaign throughout the tourist zones of Saint Martin’s Island.

‘In the early days we would retrieve over 260 Kilograms each round, but we have documented a huge decrease since then.This year we collected only 160 Kilograms of marine debris amid 2 days of torrential rain’, said Coordinator of Dive Bangladesh and Diving Expert SM Atiqur Rahman.

‘There are many factors in the case of Saint Martin’s including comparatively low turnout of tourists in the late season, but we hope that the decrease is a sign that Saint Martin’s is becoming more environmentally conscious. As usual plastic bags, fishing nets, bottles and cups were the most abundant items found,’ said Mr. Atiqur.

Marine Conservation group SOS organizes the volunteer event every year. Divers and volunteers register with the ‘Cleanup’ before the campaign each year.

‘Every trash and debris from cities make their way into the sea. If recycling of non-biodegradable trash cannot be ensured, threats to marine biodiversity in the coastal Bay of Bengal will remain at present dangerous level,’ said Mohammad Arju, Coordinator of the SOS in a preparatory meeting earlier 31 March 2014. ‘In our diving expeditions round the year, we are observing a rapidly degrading marine ecosystem in the bay. Due to marine litter and acidification the bay is losing its coral community and other important habitats. Specially, habitats adjacent to Saint Martin’s Island is under continues threat of non-biodegradable stuff from different sources,’ he added.

Mangroves for the Future Bangladesh National Coordinating Body supported this campaign this year with its commitment to join hands with national efforts for conservation, rehabilitation and sustainable management of coastal ecosystem conservation for coastal community resilience.

News coverage

The event was highlighted in national media,few news links are given below: